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LeEco Le 1s Review: Good design, great features, iffy battery

Thursday, 21 January 2016
China’s LeEco, erstwhile known as Letv, has set its sights on India. From extensivesocial media campaigns to fan meets, the company seems to be fully prepared for its foray in the Indian market. Speaking of the Indian market, especially the smartphone segment, not only it is highly crowded and competitive, it is almost nearing a saturation point with most of the smartphones at certain price bracket coming with similar set of specifications. For a new entrant such as LeEco, making an impact in the Indian market is going to be a daunting task. With the Le 1s, priced at Rs 10,999, let’s see whether LeEco can take on existing brands.
Right off the bat, I will assert I am very apprehensive about recommending a new brand to my friends and family. And the same holds true when I am reviewing a product. While new brands offer great hardware specifications at unbelievable prices to gain market share, there is no way to check how optimized the hardware and software experience is, or for that matter, even the after-sales support.
I started using LeEco’s Le 1s with similar skepticism. I have been using the phone for almost two weeks as my primary smartphone. Here’s my review of LeEco’s first smartphones in India.
One of the first things that impresses about the Le 1s is its design. Featuring a metal unibody, the smartphone has rounded corners and metallic frame on the edges. It is quite slim at 7.5mm, considering that it is a 5.5-inch smartphone housing housing a 3,000mAh battery. The overall design is sort of becoming quite common with most Chinese brands these days, but I would not take away the fact that it looks quite premium, especially for a smartphone that costs just Rs 10,999.
The front of the smartphone is dominated by the display along with the front camera, speakers and notification light on the top and the backlit navigation buttons on the bottom. The volume buttons along with the power button are placed on the right edge, while the left edge houses the dual-SIM card slots (one micro-SIM and one nano-SIM). Both the slots support 4G connectivity.
The base of the Le 1s has machine-drilled speaker and mic, along with a USB Type-C port. This is the first smartphone at its price segment to have a USB Type-C port. The top has a standard 3.5mm audio port. The rear of the smartphone has the camera set up and fingerprint scanner. Overall, the Le 1s offers good grip, is comfortable to carry around and most importantly is one of the most good looking smartphones in the market in this price segment.
Display, UI and Features
The smartphone has a 5.5-inch full HD display. In terms of viewing angles, brightness levels, visibility in sunlight and indoors, the Le 1s delivers a satisfactory experience. You can customize the display color modes with options such as the Vivid (for more vibrance), Natural (true colors) and Soft (for long-time phone use) depending on your preference. I mostly stayed on the default and Natural color modes.
The Le 1s has a 500 nits bright display, which works brilliantly even under sunlight, and is brighter than the 450 nits display on the Lenovo K4 Note. Unlike some other smartphones that I have used, the auto-brightness functionality works perfectly and cranks up the display brightness under harsh light and dims it sufficiently in low light to avoid straining the eye.
While the display delivers good readability, it doesn’t really reproduce the right colors when browsing the images you have clicked. This is something I noticed only when browsing photos in the gallery, even though the colors were fine while browsing the Internet or reading emails. You can easily spot this difference when browsing pictures in the gallery of the phone and the same pictures on a bigger screen. Colors are mostly over saturated on the phone.
The Le 1s runs Android 5.0 but has a custom skin called EUI on the top. Contrary to colorful and vibrant interfaces we have seen of late on other UIs, the EUI is quite sober and subtle. The UI has a minimalist flat appearance including a flattish icons for apps.
EUI has plenty of customization features such as customized access permissions for individual apps where you can select which functions an app can access. You can also schedule power on and off, adjust the size and distribution of content displayed on the phone. There are several hidden tweaks such as enable single hand lockscreen mode, which comes handy if you use a PIN to unlock the phone. Turning it on moves the pin lock pad to one side of the display to use with one hand.
The Le 1s is one of the few smartphones in its price segment to come with a fingerprint scanner. It is fairly easy to set up, and can support up to five different fingerprints. The fingerprint scanner is placed at the rear and is easily accessible — I did not have to struggle to reach it. The scanner works really well and swiftly unlocks the phone. You can also tap the sensor to click photos if you are in the camera and it comes pretty handy while clicking selfies.
Another interesting feature in the smartphone is the IR-based Remote Control. The feature allows you to remote control supported devices such as TV, projector, air conditioners and can also be used as a universal remote. While the remote worked fine with my LG TV, I could not set up my Tata Sky set top box with it.
The Le 1s has a 13-megapixel rear camera and a 5-megapixel front facing camera. The 13-megapixel rear camera comes with features such as PDAF and LED flash. It can also shoot videos in 4K resolution and also supports slow motion. In terms of custom settings, you can set the white balance, ISO level, exposure, contrast, sharpness and saturation levels. The camera interface is quite simple for point and shoot or casual photography.
In terms of performance, I found the camera quality to be a mixed bag. In auto mode, which I believe most users end up using, some photos came out exceptionally well but others left a lot to be desired. In optimal lighting, the photos turn out sharp but the colors and contrast levels keep fluctuating. What I find impressive is how quickly the camera is able to lock focus, which is probably due to the Phase Detection Auto Focus (PDAF) technology.
When it comes to low light conditions, the camera turns up pretty decent photos, especially considering the price point. Yes, the photos have noise but I am impressed how well the camera is able to focus on subjects even in poor lighting. However, it struggles when there are multiple light sources from different directions, but I guess that’s asking for too much at this price.
What surprised me the most is the lack of an HDR mode, which is pretty common these days. I believe the addition of HDR would have fixed most of the inconsistency problems with the camera.
The 5-megapixel front facing camera is is good enough for selfies. It seems to have a beauty mode of sorts that’s permanently on, which smooths out wrinkles and enhances the skin tone.
The Le 1s is capable of shooting 4K videos, which you can best experience in bright light. I did notice slight heating up while shooting videos in 4K mode.
Performance & Battery life
The Le 1s doesn’t disappoint when it comes to performance. The 2.2 GHz Octa-Core Mediatek Helio X10 Processor coupled with 3GB of RAM ensures the phone keeps ticking smoothly. The phone comes with 32GB onboard storage, out of which roughly 29GB is available to users, which is quite impressive for a budget smartphone. There is no microSD card slot, however, so you cannot expand the storage.
From Facebook to Slack, I had run all necessary applications on the phone. During my usage, I didn’t come across any issues with the performance of the phone. I even played a few graphic intensive games on the phone such as Real Racing and casual running games like Subway Surfer. I encountered no issue while playing these games, though I would have preferred better graphics quality as compared to what we have experienced on contemporary smartphones.
But that said, the phone handles normal tasks such as browsing and music streaming very well along with heavy duty gaming. As is case with most of the Android smartphones, prolonged gaming sessions do cause heating up, but it never gets to an uncomfortable level.
The sound quality including call quality is by far very average, and really doesn’t get really better when plugged in headphones. I would have liked higher volume while taking calls on the speakerphone. I found the noise cancellation to be a bit underwhelming as well as whenever I took calls on the speakerphone the person on the other side found my voice to be muffled.
The Le 1s is powered by a 3,000mAh battery and comes with USB Type C charging port. Battery life, sadly, is one of the major drawbacks of the smartphone. You can barely see through a day with the smartphone on normal to moderate usage.
With all radios on, the fully charge battery dropped to 15-20 percent after roughly 3-4 hours. My usage included background running apps such as Slack, Facebook and Gmail as well as approximately 20 minutes of gaming and about half an hour of music streaming and Internet browsing. The battery drops rapidly from 100 percent to 70-80 percent. On minimum usage, you may experience higher battery life. You can enable battery saver mode at any point of the time, but unlikely to have a full day of usage.
Thanks to USB Type-C, the phone charges relatively fast. On roughly 20 minutes of charge, battery level goes up from 10 percent to 28-30 percent.
At Rs 10,999, the LeEco Le 1s offers you a beautiful design along with the latest features such as fingerprint scanner, which actually works flawlessly, decent camera and a very impressive overall performance.
The Le 1s will provide tough competition to the likes of the Coolpad Note 3 and theLenovo K4 Note. It is a good start for the company, which promises having a network of over 500 service centers. The Le 1s will go on sale exclusively on Flipkart on February 2.